School Anxiety, p.2
Some children we see have undiagnosed learning disabilities; they've had difficulty with a certain subject, but the teachers may not be aware of their problems or think that the students aren't applying themselves. As a result, these kids develop anxieties around school.
Q: Lots of children resist going to school. So how can parents recognize true anxiety?
A: Usually, kids who have school anxiety will show a range of stress- or anxiety-related symptoms. Young kids, especially preschoolers, frequently talk about their fear of school and may ask for repeated reassurance from parents: "Can you stay at school with me?" "Do I have to go?" Often they'll complain about stomachaches or headaches or become unusually clingy. Many children suddenly have difficulty sleeping and may begin asking to sleep with their parents. Some also develop school refusal or phobia -- a fear so intense that the children can't be coaxed onto the school bus or into the building. If they manage to get to school, they cry, complain of aches and pains, and can't be calmed down by the teacher. These kids aren't just being oppositional; they're trying to avoid a situation that makes them scared.
Also key: Children with school anxiety struggle with it every day of school. It's not something they have one day but not the next.
Q: What can parents do at the beginning of the school year to help their children avoid developing school anxiety?
A: If your daughter is going into preschool, take her on a tour a few days or weeks before school starts. (She likely won't remember a visit that occurred months ago, and you also risk making her anxious if you start talking about school so far in advance.) If she's a kindergartner or older, tour during the summer. Also, talk to your child about what the routines will be at school. If she tends to have trouble with new social situations, arrange for playdates with some new classmates before school begins. If she's too young for drop-off playdates, step into the other room for a few minutes while the kids are playing. You want to put her in a situation that makes her just a little anxious so she can see that she can handle it.
With preschoolers, you can role-play at home. Many children are cognitively ready for school but struggle with how to assert themselves socially. Using puppets, dolls, or stuffed animals, act out social situations that make them anxious, such as meeting the teacher for the first time.
If you think the transition might be hard for your child, talk to the principal during the spring before school starts; you may be able to choose a teacher who is a good match for your child. Then check in with the teacher throughout the school year. Let her know what she can do to help your child relax at school.